Harbaugh vs. Gilbride: NFC West addendum

A few more thoughts on San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh going nuclear on New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride for suggesting 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith "gets away with murder" by holding opposing offensive linemen:

  • Smith's responses to the uproar are entertaining on their own. They're funnier if you're familiar with his aw-shucks demeanor. He says offensive linemen hold because "they're born that way" and jokes that getting away with murder beats "getting caught with it." He calls them a colorful name, too.

  • Dan Graziano of our NFC East blog points to a Football Outsiders piece from before the season. That piece claims Smith not only gets away with holding, but that the 49ers' coaches instruct their defensive linemen to play that way. Players work to get every edge they can get. Offensive linemen hold regularly and get away with it. Defensive backs try to shove around receivers. No one calls them cheaters for it. Smith is a dominant player, period. Gilbride's comments should not diminish that.

  • Graziano also suggests Harbaugh's response -- describing Gilbride's remarks with a list of colorful adjectives -- might attune officials to calls they might not otherwise have on their radar. It might put public pressure on them to watch for Smith, but coaches routinely ask officials in private to watch certain players for certain infractions. You can bet the Giants have complained about Smith directly to officials.

  • Officials rarely call holding against defensive linemen. Since 2009, they've made 58 holding calls on first, second and third downs against players listed as defensive linemen (my way of excluding most special-teams plays). That includes two against Smith. Players sometimes change between defensive end and outside linebacker depending on scheme, so the numbers could change based on that factor. But it's still a call officials rarely make. As the Football Outsiders piece notes, it's a tough one for officials to see.

That's it for now. I'm heading out for a Friday-night dinner while wondering how many times per game offensive linemen get away with holding Smith. It's a lot more times than his defensive coordinator has complained about publicly, for sure.